|Map of the London Underground Railways, Harry Beck, 1933 (source)
Recently the diagram of London’s central underground network, as displayed inside the trains, changed to include the East End of London. The area shown was enlarged to introduce all stations from Notting Hill to Stratford—an endeavor that not only conformed to London’s geographic reality but also the socio-cultural significance of the East End—the area east of the medieval walled-city of London. As a visual depiction of central London, the small map displayed in the tube long excluded East London and solely represented its center, the West End and West London. Indeed this change precedes the political ambitions of the London’s Olympics and the regeneration of the Hackney Marshes.
Although a minor detail for most commuters, this new mapping of central London highlights the shifting geography of London’s center, Eastward. From the traditional center of Charing Cross, the new map appears to position the area around St. Paul’s as its new geographical center.
Unlike London, New York’s topography clearly defines the rigid geography of the city with the island of Manhattan as a center, which is surrounded by peripheral neighborhoods. Similarly, Paris’ Boulevard Périphérique and the former site of the Thiers Wall, on which it is built, have both historically contained the city and clearly defines its boundary. London, as opposed to its metropolitan counterparts, does not accept a definite geography and its perceived center is indicated by the most common representation: the map of the underground. Thus, it is likely to change.
|Photograph by Cameron Smith, 2008 (source)
Popular images of London often depict scenes from the city center and the West End. Despite an absence of tourist buses, the East is a colorful part of the city, with a unique identity, which is often overlooked.
Part of what makes London successful and diverse can be attributed to the East, however this area lacks representation due to a history of poverty. The East is notable for, amongst other things, its high number of housing estates which provide relatively low rents. Bargain seekers may also fare well at many of the weekly markets that sell a range of goods from obscure copies of Playboy to vegetables. East London is also home to a large Bangladeshi population, many of whom run numerous local businesses and worship at the East London Mosque, a building with a call to prayer that can be heard throughout Whitechapel. Countless architecture firms, fashion designers, product designers, artists and musicians live and work in this part of the city. Additionally, the East offers many unique culinary experiences such as jellied eels at F. Cooke’s Pie and Mash, English breakfast at E. Pellicci’s, curries from Tayyabs and an endless selection of organic treats from The Grocery. Famous figures such as Shakespeare, Jack the Ripper, Joseph Merrick, Alfred Hitchcock, the Kray Brothers, Alexander McQueen, M.I.A., and so on, have all left their mark or have been marked by this region. Despite its vibrancy and rich character the East is rarely exposed to outsiders.
One place where images of East London are getting exposure is as backdrops for fashion shoots. East London’s glory is popping up in such magazines as Japanese Vogue, Korean Nylon etc. proving that the East is sharp. Knife crime aside, London still has an edge and it is in the East.
Erandi de Silva
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